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Why Calling Someone’s Nose ‘Ugly’ Is Racist

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For ages, the desired standard of beauty across the world has been deeply influenced by, if not limited to, the ‘ideal’ European figure– thin and tall, light/tanned skin, large eyes, high cheekbones and a small nose.

A person’s nose, in particular, is a feature that faces distinct scrutiny before it is deemed whether they are attractive or conventionally ‘ugly.’ Funnily enough, the model for a perfect nose is whatever draws as little attention to itself as possible, and anything a bit too long or wide or crooked is considered to be a flaw. 

This Eurocentric approach to beauty is especially brutal for women, who mustn’t dare be anything but delicate, small, feminine and pleasant to look at. 

It goes without saying that the societal bias against ‘not-so-cute’ noses has consequences for women that often manifest as body-image issues, low self-esteem or them being subjected to body-shaming, bullying or unsolicited and backhanded advice.

Some of these have been subtly addressed by Phoebe Waller in Crashing when her character refers to her nose as a ‘personal tragedy’ and in Fleabag when she tells her best friend that she has “always been insecure about her face” and is reassuringly told that “there is nothing wrong with her nose.” 

Representational image. Photo: Instagram/Radhika Sanghani

Politics Of ‘Ugly’ Noses

It is obviously possible for Anglo-American people to not be born with typical Caucasian features and share the same insecurities that people with ‘unattractive’ noses may or may not have.

However, it cannot be overlooked that big, broad and other nose shapes that are looked down on (some examples of which may be Aquiline, Nubian, Hawk and East-Asian noses) are features that are usually associated with people who are Jewish, Black, Asian or belong to other marginalised ethnic groups.

While it is human nature to have personal preferences, likes and dislikes, regarding specific traits that are inherent in the culture, beauty and ancestry of a number of ethnicities as innately ‘ugly,’ unworthy of being shown on screens, billboards or in magazines is explicitly racist and anti-Semitic in nature.

So is the assumption that all people with long/pointy/droopy noses are Jewish or belong to some or the other multiethnic group necessarily. 

Such an understanding of beauty is undoubtedly based on the notion that these communities and their idiosyncrasies are somehow inferior to the elite White identity.

Not only is it a violent threat to people’s belief in their and their community’s worth, but it also causes them to miss out on potential sources of livelihood from careers such as acting, modelling and creating visual content as well as other opportunities for self-actualisation.

Moreover, the artists, and especially women, who do land lead roles usually have some or all features that are typically European– for instance, Aishwarya Rai or Bella Hadid. 

However, this prejudice may not always present itself as an overt act of racism. It may even be unintentional or so subconscious and minuscule that it goes totally unnoticed.

For instance, artists who make ‘fanart’ by sketching the characters of a book or a movie often make their facial features and especially the nose as smaller, thinner and essentially more White-passing than is described or shown– sometimes even if the author specifically mentions that the character is “beautiful except for their big nose.

Artists and film directors of book adaptations may even go the extra mile to lighten the tone of a character’s skin– yet another example of ‘whitewashing’ of people from ethnic communities to make them appear more ‘attractive.’ 

Rhinoplasty – Superficial Procedure Or Personal Autonomy?

An aspect of this conversation that is often (unnecessarily) debated is what people with long/big/ethnic noses should or shouldn’t do with their faces.

Rhinoplasty or a nose job, a procedure that surgically alters the shape and/or size of someone’s nose, is often looked down on and is considered especially peculiar when opted for by a man– which is hypocritical considering society itself established a distinction between what’s pretty and what’s not.

While some believe that cosmetic surgery reflects one’s inability to feel secure in the way they or their family looks, some see it as an obsession with perceived perfection and the desire to look more White or maybe less ethnic.

Others consider a cosmetic procedure to be disrespectful to one’s ancestry and the rest believe that it idolises and glorifies one culture, thereby dishonouring the rest. 

“Consider the sweeping trend of the nose job that overtook Jewish and other ethnic communities in the 1960s and continues to have a certain amount of popularity. The nose itself was the mark of coveted cultural assimilation. The physical transformation emblematized a cultural ideal,” noted Virginia Blum in her book ‘Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery.’

While it is obviously true that ethnic noses are absolutely beautiful and worthy of being celebrated and cherished for exactly what they are, getting or not getting cosmetic surgery is a matter of personal choice– which may not stem from body mage issues at all. It does not take away from a person’s love and respect for themselves or their community in any way. 

That being said, considering the cost of rhinoplasty or similar procedures, it must be acknowledged that it does act as a mark of one’s privilege to be able to look more White-passing, access the opportunities that come with being conventionally ‘pretty,’ and to simply feel better abut oneself.

Most importantly, it can lend one safety in the face of racial violence. For example, in the 1920s, many Jews, Greeks and Italians were seeking nose jobs due to the prevalence of anti-immigration and anti-Semitism sentiments at the time. 

Moreover, an interesting observation to be made is that, for instance, when a White person gets surgery to enhance their features, it isn’t seen as an act of betrayal to their ethnicity/community identity.

The irony here is that some of these now desired features- big lips, thick thighs, tanned skin and even hairstyles like cornrows and deadlocks- are actually inherent to the culture and beauty of Black people and other ethnic groups. 

I guess what we’re leaving with is an understanding that long/broad/ethnic noses and other facial features are just as stunning as the ones that are venerated by Eurocentric standards, and calling them ugly or unattractive is a subtle act of racial discrimination.

And for those who have ever considered getting rhinoplasty or some other cosmetic procedure, I’d say that loving your features and ethnic identity can look however you want it to– finding joy in the features you’re born with or getting surgery done to look the way you want to. 

The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
Featured website image credit: Instagram/radhikasanghani. For representational purposes only.

Featured image credit: Flickr

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